& and ⁊

That’s an ampersand and the “Tironian” sign for “et” (and so, in the Irish uncial we were taught at school, “agus”).

I’m seriously worried how this will show outside my Mac. Indeed, as I see on the review, it’s already been truncated down to a pathetic right-angle. Thank you, wordpress, for such ignorance: can you do a Hebrew final Kaf? Irish Posts and Telegraphs could:


But it involves something I discovered only today, and feel an urge to share. Woo-woo.

Yeah, I know. Long time, no post. Something to do with “time out’, real life, a couple of weeks away (Madeira, since you didn’t ask), and too much time on politics.ie. That’s where this one first appeared, and drew the instant reply:

For April 1st, the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen” posted this:

The Illustrious Ampersand

What do law firms, lithographs, and sex clinics have in common? (No lawyer jokes, please.) It’s the ampersand: Masters & Johnson, Currier & Ives, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography. In prose, the word “and” is preferred, but designers love the ampersand, and publishers use it in “display copy.”

The ampersand — & — has an allure that cannot be denied.

There’s stuff in there which was new to me (and — I hope — to others).

formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet

Well, yeah, according to Wikipedia:

The ampersand often appeared as a letter at the end of the Latin alphabet, as for example in Byrhtferð’s list of letters from 1011. Similarly, & was regarded as the 27th letter of the English alphabet, as used by children (in the US). An example may be seen in M. B. Moore’s 1863 book The Dixie Primer, for the Little Folks. In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to this when she makes Jacob Storey say: “He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th’ alphabet like; though ampusand would ha’ done as well, for what he could see.” The popular Apple Pie ABC finishes with the lines “X, Y, Z, and ampersand, All wished for a piece in hand”.
The ampersand should not be confused with the Tironian “et” (“⁊”), which is a symbol similar to the numeral 7. Both symbols have their roots in the classical antiquity, and both signs were used up through the Middle Ages as a representation for the Latin word “et” (“and”). However, while the ampersand was in origin a common ligature in the everyday script, the Tironian “et” was part of a highly specialised stenographic shorthand.

So far, so good.


  • Byrhtferð; who he?
  • “Tironian” what that?

Byrhtferth (c. 970 – c. 1020) gets his own Wikipedia entry, which made that easy. So he’s whom I blame for Old English grammar? —

Byrhtferth’s signature appears on only two unpublished works, his Latin and Old English Manual, and Latin Preface.

An old friend?

I also discover Marcus Tullius Tiro. Why does that name seem familiar? Aha! —

Marcus Tullius Tiro (died c. 4 BC) was first a slave, then a freedman of Cicero. He is frequently mentioned in Cicero’s letters. After Cicero’s death he published his former master’s collected works. He also wrote a considerable number of books himself, and possibly invented an early form of shorthand.

Tiro appears as a recurring character in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa crime fiction series, where he occupies the role of sometime sidekick to Saylor’s investigator hero, Gordianus the Finder. He is also Robert Harris‘s first-person narrator in the trilogy of Cicero: Imperium (2006), Lustrum (2009, published in the US as Conspirata), and Dictator (2015).

Sadly I realise I was recognising the fictional characters there, rather than recollecting my undergraduate studies. After all, Cicero’s letters Ad Familiares got a fair old doing-over, often as … err … unseen translations.

I hope I won’t alone in welcoming this  also, errr … useful addition to personal knowledge.


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Filed under fiction, Literature, New York Times

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